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Sunday, September 4, 2016

2016 NFL Preseason Preview

The NFL season is just hours away.  The preseason is over.  Fantasy football drafts are in the rear-view mirror.  It is time for the real NFL games to begin.  It is also time to make some predictions.

AFC East:  Tom Brady is suspended for the first four games of the year.  That means that the untested and unheralded Jimmy Garoppolo will play quarterback for the Patriots for the first quarter of the season.  If this was any other franchise, I would say that spells trouble.  But this is the New England Patriots we are talking about.  The AFC East is a weak division this year.  Bill Belichick will figure out a way to weather the storm.  By the time the season ends, the Patriots will not only win the division, but they will also be in the running for the top seed in the conference.  Division Winner: New England Patriots

AFC North:  Once again, the AFC North is a loaded division.  The only team that does not have a legitimate hope to win the division is the Cleveland Browns, and even the Browns have a flicker of optimism with the arrival of RG3 and a whole new coaching staff.  The Ravens had a disappointing season in 2015.  Baltimore's organization is too solid to be terrible twice in a row, but I do believe they will miss the playoffs again this year.  The Bengals will win double digit games again this season, but that will only be good enough for a wild card this year.  The Pittsburgh Steelers offense is deep enough to survive the early season suspension of running back Le'Veon Bell, and it is explosive enough to carry this team to a division championship.  Division Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers    Wild Card: Cincinnati Bengals

AFC South:  Despite failing to make the playoffs in 2015, Las Vegas still considers the Indianapolis Colts to be the favorite to win the division.  It is true that injuries to Luck contributed greatly to the Colts' struggles last season, but it is also true that the Colts did little in the offseason to address the offensive line that caused those injuries.  Meanwhile, all the other teams in the division improved significantly.  The two teams that improved the most are the Houston Texans and the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The Texans are the reigning division champs, and will defend their title.  Despite losing a home game yet again this season to the NFL's devotion to London, the Jaguars will make their first playoff appearance since 2007.  Division Winner: Houston Texans    Wild Card: Jacksonville Jaguars

AFC West:  That AFC West is home to the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.  But those Broncos no longer have the legendary Peyton Manning at quarterback.  Instead, it will be Trevor Siemian at the helm for the defending champs.  There is no doubt that when it came to physical skills, the 2015 version of Peyton Manning was a shadow of his former self, but Manning's mental acuity and experience covered a lot of flaws in Denver's offensive line.  It is doubtful that the young Siemian or his rookie backup Paxton Lynch will be able to fill that same role.  That could lead to offensive disaster in Denver.  In contrast, Andy Reid and his Kansas City Chiefs will be steady and solid on both sides of the ball.  That will be good enough to win this division.  The rest of the division will cannibalize itself and allow only one team to the make the playoffs.  Division Winner: Kansas City Chiefs

NFC East:  According to the seers in the desert, no division in football is more of a toss-up than the NFC East.  Prior to Romo's injury, I was all set to put the Dallas Cowboys' helmet next to this prediction.  But then the injury did happened.  Dallas fans are very excited about rookie Dak Prescott's preseason performance, but the preseason is not the real season.  Defenses are vanilla in the preseason, and Prescott does not come from a college system where he was expected to read complex defensive schemes and direct a pro style offense.  However, the Cowboys are a run first team, and Romo should return at some point.  If they can hold things together to start the year, the Cowboys should be able to snag a wild card berth.  But, the division champions will once again hail from our nation's capital.  Kirk Cousins will have a wealth of weapons around him as he enters his first season as the unquestioned leader of the offense, and the addition of Josh Norman to the defense should eliminate some of the disasters in the secondary that plagued the team in 2015.  While they may not be a legit Super Bowl contender, the Redskins will have enough to win this mediocre division.  Division Winner: Washington Redskins     Wild Card: Dallas Cowboys

NFC North:  There is a little air of sadness around this division.  Not only did the Vikings lose Teddy Bridgewater to a devastating injury, but they made things worse by deciding to mortgage their future to replace Bridgewater with Sam Bradford.  Then there is also the abrupt retirement of Megatron from the Lions.  And the Bears are the Bears once again.  That leaves the Green Bay Packers as the lone bright spot in the division.  And the Packers are a very bright spot.  Not only do the Packers have a good team, they have an even better schedule.  In their cross-division games, the Pack get Dallas, Houston and Seattle at home.  The Packers will not only win this division, but they will have one of the best records in the conference.  Division Winner: Green Bay Packers

NFC South:  2015 was a magical season for the Carolina Panthers.  It is unrealistic to expect a repeat of a 15-1 season, but it is very realistic to expect the Panthers to repeat as division champs.  The Panthers will get to pounce on Trevor Siemian in his NFL debut to start the season in Denver. Then they will get to feast on the rest of a weak division.  The Saints and the Falcons cannot seem to figure out what they plan to do on defense, and the Buccaneers are still mired in an eternal rebuild.  All that opens the door for Panthers to challenge once again for the best record in the NFC.  Division Winner: Carolina Panthers

NFC West:  The NFC West has two excellent teams and two terrible teams.  In fact, the two best teams in the NFC might both be in this division.  Those teams are the Cardinals and the Seahawks.  Only one of those teams can win the division, but the other team will surely earn a wild card spot.  I have to make this pick in the preseason, so I have to give the edge to the Cardinals.  That being said, both the Seahawks and the Cardinals will be serious Super Bowl champion contenders.  Division Winner: Arizona Cardinals     Wild Card: Seattle Seahawks

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